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Building Better Connections

City Building Forum 2017

Thank you to everyone who attended the event or watched Synapcity’s webcast. The answers to the unanswered questions you posed in the panel discussions are posted below. 

A picture of the new O’Born room in the National Arts Centre with a view of the Château Laurier and the text City-Building Forum

Tuesday, October 17, 2017
National Arts Centre, O’Born Room  
1 Elgin Street, Ottawa, ON K1P 5W1
1 to 4 p.m., Welcome desk open at 12:30 p.m.

Are you passionate about Ottawa? 

Join a wide range of city-building organizations, agencies and stakeholders in an afternoon of discussion, networking and thought provoking interactive speeches.Hosted by the City of Ottawa in the newly opened expansion of the National Arts Centre.

This forum aims to create a collaborative networking environment for city-building organizations during this unprecedented period of transformation in our city.  Come meet like minded individuals who all share your passion for city building!

Light refreshments will be provided.

Our Master of Ceremonies:

Jan Harder, Ottawa City Councillor for Ward 3 Barrhaven and Chair of Planning Committee

Having spent over 20 years serving the residents of Barrhaven as their municipal representative Jan Harder often states that for the majority of her life she has been, and continues to be, employed in the customer service industry. Jan was a successful business professional prior to being elected in 1997 to the former City of Nepean council, and is now a recognized leader on council who has been proud to call Barrhaven home for over 30 years. Jan has become known as a community builder and champion and has helped Barrhaven and Ottawa grow by working with local and national business leaders as well as City staff to secure the necessary infrastructure to support such growth. Jan believes the best way to build Ottawa is to balance growth while maintaining a high quality of life.

Our Guest Speakers:

Stephen Willis, General Manager, Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development Department, City of Ottawa

Stephen Willis is the General Manager of the City of Ottawa’s Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development Department. Mr. Willis is a Registered Professional Planner and Professional Land Economist with more than 20 years of experience in the public and private sector. Mr. Willis has held a number of positions in the Ottawa area, including Executive Director of the Capital Planning Branch for the National Capital Commission, and positions with major multidisciplinary consulting firms. Mr. Willis is responsible for increasing the City’s economic viability through planning and infrastructure initiatives as well as finding economic opportunities to create new growth and prosperity in the Ottawa area. 

Laine Johnson, Program Director, Synapcity

Laine is a devoted long-time resident of Ottawa and deeply committed to creating equity and partnership in city-building. As an inaugural graduate of the Masters of Philanthropy and Non-Profit Leadership at Carleton University, Laine brings a theoretically grounded strategic lens to her work as Program Director. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Laine celebrates divergent thinking and is particularly attentive to emergent approaches and solutions. Laine has grown up in Ottawa’s non-profit sector, applying her leadership and partnership development skills to the arts and culture sector, community health and resource centres, seniors services, and public policy. She loves to learn from all the co-creators of this fine city.

Benjamin Gianni, Associate Professor, Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism, Carleton University

Professor Ben Gianni’s research interests focus on the areas of housing and urban development. Of particular interest is public housing constructed in the decades following WWII in Europe and North America, and its redevelopment from the 1990s onward. Professor Gianni teaches courses on housing and urban history, as well as leading the housing studio in the 4th year of the BAS program. A former Director of both the School of Architecture and the School of Information Technology at Carleton, he is currently coordinating the School’s Urbanism major.    

The City of Ottawa is committed to creating a barrier-free city. If you require assistance with this material or during the event contact: Charmaine Forgie at 613-580-2424 extension 24075 or

Panel Discussion Questions and Answers

What might be done to guide urban infill to stay within zoned heights and where they exist, community design plans?

Strengthen the Mature Neighbourhoods By-law to ensure new infill on side streets is consistent with dominant character, and continue using CDP’s direction when taking in applications.

Intensification – is there descriptive criteria for levels of intensification? If not why not? Process?

There are descriptive criteria for building height ranges in the OP (low-rise, mid-rise, high-rise). Next OP will be the opportunity to increase level of detail and focus better on built form, using new Planning Act and PPS tools that were not in place at the last OP review.

How can we best advance the City policy to build, live, work affordable housing for aging arts workers?

Regulatory opportunities continue to be explored. Removing parking requirements in key areas was a major step in the right direction.

One of the biggest costs in federal and provincial budgets in health care. They both have aging in place philosophies. How is this taken into consideration in City-Building – a liveable city?

This factor calls us to focus on considering the future of Ottawa as a city of proximity, not distance; and a city of good pedestrian access as opposed to the car-centricity of much of our existing built-up area. Increasing residential opportunities in established neighbourhoods to provide more choice to a wider range of households and age groups is also paramount.

What is the City doing to ensure affordable housing is being built in close proximity to rapid public transit?

TOD Plans, CDP’s and Secondary Plans for station areas have lower or no parking requirements for housing, which significantly reduces costs. The OP calls for complete communities to minimize the need to travel, saving on transportation costs which are a large portion of household budgets. We need to maintain and increase frequencies on street buses that serve the innermost neighbourhoods where people can already function on foot and by transit.

When will the City respond to a proposal made last February for a Planning Advisory Committee? This was an invitation to dialogue by a group of citizens advised by an international expert on public engagement. These people have more experience with City Hall than most councillors! Yet, there has not even been an acknowledgements, let alone a conversation.

A report is going forward in Q4 2017.

As the City intensifies, particularly around transit nodes, Mainstreets and failing retail centres, how will the City encourage a mix of affordable housing? How can Ottawa, North America’s best medium size City for lower income households?

To encourage affordable housing around transit areas, the City can explore using a number of tools to create opportunities for new affordable housing development. This can involve acquisition of land in or near TOD areas, for example the City supported Ottawa Community Housing Corporation’s acquisition of 933 Gladstone, a significant parcel of land strategically located between two TOD areas. The city can make incentives available such as capital funding to have developers compete for affordable rental and/or homeownership options as well exploring the potential of new Inclusionary Zoning powers that could be used in TOD areas.

In the upcoming refresh of the Official Plan, will the City abandon its previous practice of balancing the consultation (developers-community) and instead facilitate dialogue between stakeholders in order to achieve consensus?

Thank you for your question regarding the upcoming Official Plan Review and the related stakeholder engagement or consultation process. The review will include a strong consultation program, including the industry and general public. At the City, we strive to be inclusive and diverse with our consultation, and although consensus is not always possible amongst the diversity and multitude of stakeholders, the primacy of the public interest will be upheld, well documented and well explained. The Ontario Planning Act specifies the process that must be used for consultations when development applications are considered.

I’m not sure I want Amazon in Ottawa. Why would we want this corporation here? Do we really want to grow by 50,000 people?

Having Amazon locate in Ottawa-Gatineau presents an unmatched opportunity to grow and diversify the Region’s knowledge based economy and solidify the Region’s positioning on the Global stage as a key player in the global knowledge based economy.  The population growth that would result, much of which can be expected to be accommodated within key intensification areas along the City’s LRT corridor will add significantly to supporting the City’s significant investment in LRT and would provide for increased revenues through property taxes as well as support and grow local businesses that will serve the increased population.  The scale of growth that would be provided by Amazon locating HQ2 in the National capital region is growth that will occur over time, it is the timeframe for this growth that will be accelerated as a result of Amazon locating in the region and this will allow the city to truly position itself as a vibrant, dynamic and livable city for both current and future residents. 

If we want to sell intensification, we need parks and open spaces to offer the community to gather and interact. When will we get a parks and open spaces master plan to ensure park and open space equity in the City and direct the City’s resources to this?

As this question refers to intensification it is assumed that the question is directed at potential opportunities for park acquisition inside dense urban areas.  A Parks and Open Space Master Plan would be part of Official Plan process, however it would not be the right mechanism for acquisition of new properties in specific areas of the City that are already built up.  At best, the Official Plan could instruct us to take opportunities as they arise, but to direct us to acquire and demolish properties to create new urban green space is not realistic.  Opportunities for park improvement and acquisition in the inner urban area is best addressed through the various Community Design Plans in place, plus formal direction has been given for Ottawa to exercise its rights under Planning Act and acquire new park properties during site redevelopment / intensification projects where the property being redeveloped is 4000 square meters or greater. Over the coming years we will developing “urban parkettes” in partnership with the development community.  Since this direction was formalized in 2016 we are now in the process of formalizing several small parks that will appear at various formerly privately owned lands such as shopping malls, churches, etc.

You said Ottawa is over 75 per cent in terms of a knowledge-based workforce. How is the City of Ottawa going to leverage + benefit from the collective creativity, innovation + knowledge of its citizens?

The City and Invest Ottawa engage regularly with knowledge-based businesses and Ottawa’s entrepreneur community. For example, Invest Ottawa’s hosts Meet Up Monday’s at Bayview where the disruptive tech-community gets together to discuss digital transformation. The City and Invest Ottawa will also be engaging with the community on smart city concepts and ideas

Bringing together Ottawa's planning community 2016

webcast on building better connections - may 4, 2016 at 7 pm

Thank you for your interest in the Planning and Growth Management Department’s first webcast. 

Featured Speaker:

John Campbell, Former President and CEO
Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation

John Campbell was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation and was responsible for leading the estimated $34 billion revitalization of Toronto's waterfront. John will share his experience leading revitalization and redevelopment projects. His presentation will include the importance of public consultation and engagement, design excellence, sustainability for the future, and the public realm.

John has an MBA from the University of Toronto, a Bachelor of Engineering degree from Carleton University and has his Institute of Corporate Directors designation. He is on the Board of Directors for Artscape, providing creative live and work environments for the Arts community and the Board of the Canadian Urban Institute, a leading thought leader on urban issues. In 2012, he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in recognition of his contribution to Canada.

Our Featured Presentations – Previews of upcoming Planning Primer sessions

Committee of Adjustment 101

Due to popular demand, city staff are creating a new Committee of Adjustment 101 Planning Primer elective. This preview will include some key facts about the Committee of Adjustment, what type of applications are heard by the Committee, how applications are processed and what happens at a hearing.

How to Present at a Standing Committee

There are many ways to get involved during the planning process—knowing when and how is the first step.

This preview is part of an upcoming Planning Primer elective to help residents become more involved in planning matters. It will focus on how to prepare and deliver an effective presentation at a standing committee.

We welcome your suggestions about the content you’d like to see in the Planning Primer series and what you’d like to learn about in our newest course, How to Get Involved in Planning Matters, that’s currently being created.

Your questions – answered 

John Campbell
Planning the waterfront for a liveable city: the Toronto experience
Looking back, what would you say is the biggest accomplishment of the project?

One thing that I’m most proud of is the public engagement. We really went from an era 15 years ago when the public really weren’t that engaged, and I think what we’ve done is really set a new standard in Toronto for public engagement. That’s what I think I’m really proud of. It’s not our project, it’s the project of the community and that really has made a big difference. It’s one of those things that’s not physical but it’s certainly has had a big impact, and I think it’s one of the things I’m most proud of.

If you would have to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

I think that when we had started in 2001 (unofficially), the government had created us and in a hurry to get us out, they didn’t give us the powers of a corporation. We couldn’t borrow money, we couldn’t create subsidiaries, which all real estate companies need to do, so we really had very little power. And it took us until last year to get the power to borrow and even just to borrow for operating cash, not to borrow a billion dollars to go and invest. As the grants run out you end up relying on sales, and sales revenues raise spiky, but your expenses aren’t spiky. You got to pay people every day. We should’ve held off and got more corporate powers.

The other thing that I think would be different would be to actually get land ownership as opposed to land stewardship. Right now, we own very little land that we bought. Most of the land’s owned by the Province or the City, so there’s a fairly lengthy process. Once we pick a developer, we then have to go and deal with the Crown to make sure that land transfer occurs and that can become quite lengthy and arduous. And whether it’s City Council or the Crown, it’s another process that people can second-guess.

Owning the land and having the powers of a corporation would be essential. My counterpart in Hamburg, Germany has all that. He borrowed three and a half billion Euros, and he’s probably ten years ahead of us because he’s had that oomph to it. And he’s supported by the City of Hamburg and the State of Hamburg. Time-wise they’re way ahead of us because of that. We’ve had to sort of muddle along cap and hand.

I don’t quite understand the distinction you make between revitalization and redevelopment. Isn’t building new residences, offices and retail a big part of Toronto’s new waterfront?

It is, and that’s a very important point. I’m glad that person raised it because I really want to reinforce that. Real estate is real estate, and it’s redevelopment, but it’s how you do it. It’s ensuring the public realm is built there. Making sure that building broadband is in the process and the planning process. All those things help shape a quality of life and quality of place, which is quite different from just peddling land and selling it to developers for residential. Making sure that the ground floor is not residential, those kinds of things. Making sure that people build for the future. Again, that’s always a challenge, you got to deal with tomorrow morning because the developer has to sell the stuff, but you also want to think about what happens in 20, 30 and 40 years time. That’s not what they’re going to think about, that’s what we have to think about. So the revitalization is much more about being driven by public policy to ensure that in fact you’re building a quality of life here, that everybody wants to live here, they want to stay here. You don’t get that just by peddling real estate. If you travel the waterfronts around the world, you see those that have sold real estate and those that have done the other, which is being mindful of the broader public policies.

Condos versus waterfront views for all. How did you manage that?

A big challenge. When we first started, at every public meeting I went to people said, “We don’t want a wall of condos” because there had been previously a developer that had done some very high-rise ugly stuff that had people concerned. What we’ve done really is, with the planners, tiered stuff back away from the water, so four to six storeys at water’s edge, around 10 storeys at the main street, Queen’s Quay, and back against the expressway probably 30 storeys or higher. So tiering it back and making sure that as you look down those streets, you can see the water as well. It’s a blend of the hierarchy of buildings going back and making sure there’s enough access going down to the water.

Give a few more examples of what the ground floor can be used for instead of private uses.

Schools. George Brown has a ground floor lobby, food court and so forth. Bookstores. Again, there’s the challenge. It all sounds great if you have cafés there, but there’s only some many cafés you can support. If you’ve got a kilometre of waterfront, you’re not going to have a kilometre of cafés. Restaurants, cafés, bookstores, retail, gyms. The community space of the condos, their gyms and so forth. It’s not so much what’s there, it’s what’s not there that’s important. You don’t want people with their lawn chairs out there moving their pots into the public realm because that’s what sterilizes the area. It’s really anything but residential as opposed to it has to be this. It’s really anything but private residential.

What types of engagement activities reached the largest audience?

We went through community papers, we tried to expand the reach and it’s been tough because you get a certain percentage of the population who are very engaged in civic issues. It’s tough to reach the immigrant population, and it’s tough to reach young people. So we advertised in some of the immigrant local newspapers and we pushed our social media extensively, so Facebook, Twitter, all that sort of stuff. We’ve done a lot of that to try to reach out and make sure that we can bring young people. And doing the same thing that’s being done here tonight, which is broadcasting and having people participate in the public meeting through a social media table. And that gets more young people engaged. It is a challenge though. It’s the older folks, like me, that are interested in this sort of thing. That come out to the public meetings, so it’s a challenge to get everybody else.

Was the zoning in place already or did you allow exceptions?

We did the precinct plan with the community and with the Planning Department side by side and then that goes into City Hall for a zoning by-law. So the zoning is created as a result of the precinct planning. Before, there was industrial use.

We have the OMB. Sometimes it can be a bit of a crapshoot at the OMB. When it’s our land we’re putting out to marketplace, they aren’t even allowed to go and talk to the City about a permission. We will let them go and ask for minor variations if the design calls for it, but they can’t go with a 10 storey building and say, “I want 30 storeys”. Now the challenge is, of the 15 per cent of private land that’s there, as private owners they can go to the OMB. So the City passes a by-law that says certain things, and we’ve been arguing for three years with some developers about what they want to do that’s outside the zoning by-law. At the end of the day, we’re pragmatic. City Hall doesn’t have billions of dollars to spend on legal costs, so there can in some cases be the courthouse step settlement. Zoning calls for 10, you want 20, we’ll settle on 15. That does happen, that’s the realism. There’s not much you can do about it. I think that the legal costs for one of our arguments is up over two million dollars to fight certain things that they want to do, so it’s a challenge. We don’t allow the exceptions where we can control it, but where it’s private sector we have to negotiate because of the threat of the OMB.

How important is the public realm to the success of the revitalization?

Absolutely essential. When you go to great cities, it’s the public realm that makes you feel that it’s a great city. When you walk around Paris, the buildings don’t impress you, it’s the public realm that you enjoy, the pedestrian aspect. All great cities, I think, are really defined by their public realm, not by their buildings. I mean, look at Dubai. It’s a great collection of real estate projects, but I would not call it a great city. There’s very little public realm. I think that it’s really critical to create that quality of place. It’s the quality of the public realm that people enjoy on the streets. Absolutely essential.

Are there any plans to incorporate urban farming?

We’ve talked about it, we’ve thought about it, but no, not a lot. There are garden plot areas in the city, but I think that when you look at the smart growth strategy of the Province, and the Greenbelt strategy around Toronto, we have to intensify. The waterfronts are the top of the list. We’re trying to find ways to intensify in a smart fashion. We can’t keep building bungalows to Niagara Falls, that’s not going to work. So it’s how do we intensify in the waterfront and get a great quality of life but also get higher densities and higher intensity because that’s also sustainable.

What about green roofs?

Possibly. We are calling for 40 or 50 per cent of the roof top area to be green. So there is some room for intensive green roofs, which is 18 inches, which allows for it in some cases. But we’re not mandating it other than the green roof strategy.

What will be the legacy of Toronto’s waterfront?

The vision is that it will create a city that others aspire to live and work and stay there. I think that’s the legacy, to make sure that we’re competitive. I travel around the world, I was in Melbourne, Adelaide in Australia a month ago and you see what Melbourne and Singapore and others are doing. Everyone’s doing this, so we cannot not do it. Standing still, we’re falling behind. If we want our cities to thrive and we want to preserve the quality of life that we have, we’ve got to build great quality of place.

What are the plans for the Gardiner?

We did a study and the misconception is that the Gardiner’s an expressway. Actually, the piece that we were looking at is called a link between two expressways. The Gardiner comes in from the west, the Don Valley comes in from the north and most of the traffic comes into the city and back out. Only about 20 per cent of the traffic uses that link. That’s why we decided that we should look at that link to see what we could do. Our recommendation was to take it down, but that’s a bigger question than the waterfront question. It went to City Council and they decided that they wanted to do a hybrid, which was move it and rebuild it and make it more attractive. Free up some waterfront land. We didn’t think that was necessary, but I don’t live in the world of politics, I wasn’t elected. And so the politicians decided that they wanted the hybrid.

Did you do anything different in the design of the public parks?

Twenty-five percent of the waterfront revitalization area is reserved for parks and open spaces. Parks are critical to the development of new neighbourhoods and we design communities so that parks and public spaces are their spines. We are investing a significant portion of our government funding to build parks and public spaces in the first phase of revitalization. This is critical because parks and public spaces invite and draw people into new areas and they demonstrate that change and development is happening. Since 2004, Waterfront Toronto has opened 25 new or improved parks or public spaces. Please visit Waterfront Toronto’s website to learn more about these projects and our design approach.

Your comments

Really inspirational. I particularly liked Mr. Campbell's passion (of course) but his clear vision of a vibrant waterfront accessible by all citizens rather than a privileged enclave and the active involvement of all citizens in the active planning - even though that is a time consuming and challenging process! I believe strongly that this inclusive approach is what builds a strong community and space for brilliant innovative designs that make us all proud.

Building Better Connections is an initiative of the Planning and Growth Management Department to bring together members of Ottawa's planning community and provide space for meaningful discussion.

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613-580-2424, ext. 24375